. . . . .
I LOVE our local Home Educator convention. Among other things, it always gives me a chuckle (I’m a bit twisted) when I see people either unprepared, or so over prepared that they’re hauling around everything including the kitchen sink. Stories of blown budgets and time wasted are also amusing, but all of this is avoidable with a little forethought and preparation.
Many conventions are held on a Friday and Saturday. Ask your husband to consider taking Friday off of work and attending with you. For those with younger children, if you have some fabulous family or friends, ask them take your children for these two days. If it can be turned into an overnight stay – all the better.
For those with children that are well behaved, a joy to be around, and who are ready to enjoy a taste of convention, consider taking them with you on one of the days. When they’ve experienced one day, you’ll be able to tell if they’re up for both days the following year.
Register early and keep your eyes open for the speaker topics and lecture schedule. Once you’ve got it, take a look and mark (in pencil) the ones you think you’re interested in hearing. Closer to convention, look at it again and firm up your plan, editing as necessary. Also keep track of the lectures your husband wants to attend, that way you’ll know where to find him if needed. If there are sessions where you want to be in two places at once, keep them both marked. You may get to one and find it’s not for you, or hear that the speaker wasn’t all that he/she was cracked up to be. If they are both a ‘must hear’, buy the cd of which ever lecture you think you may want to listen to a few times.
If you haven’t done so already, start listing out the subjects you want each of your children to study the following academic year. Then figure out what you have and what you need. This will tell you what needs investigation. There’s no use drooling all over that fabulous advanced literature program if you’re lining up curriculum for Johnny who is 6 years old, and why waste time looking at that flashy math curriculum when what you have works just fine? With a research list in hand, you’ll be able to use your time wisely. Once your mission is accomplished, then you can go back and look at everything else just because it’s fun.
Plan a budget for convention. Include parking fees and money for take-out dinner at the end of the second day. Also include money if you’re going to want to buy something fun for the children, books for yourselves, or a gift for whoever may be watching your children for you.Go to bed early the two nights before convention, you’ll need that extra sleep banked.
The day before convention, cook double for dinner. You’ll be so pleased to having something nice to come home to tomorrow night! The night before convention, pack a small purse. I mean SMALL. Something on a long strap that can go diagonally over your body would be great. (I know it looks dorky, but at the end of the day you’ll still have your wallet!) Pack only the necessities. (Everything I take fits in a purse that's about 8x8x2.) Also pack a tote or metro bag with and a small bottle of water, a spiral notebook, a pen, speaker schedule, and your convention name badge if it’s already been sent to you.
If you have children joining you, they need to have a small tote, backpack, metro bag, with the same things that you have, plus a new coloring book/crayons, a puzzle book, and a good book to read. No markers or any toy requiring a sound effect (cars/trucks, little green army men, etc.). If it's too heavy for them to carry themselves, they can't take it.
Wear something comfortable and bring a sweater or a long sleeved button-down shirt. (Think lots of bodies in a room that's now being over air conditioned.) Also remember that if you want people to take you seriously, it will help you to look the part. I can just about guarantee you that the person in cut off shorts, a tank top, and flip flops is not going to get the attentive customer service or complete information that someone more appropriately attired will enjoy.
If you are bringing little ones, and have a few who are mobile, you may want to all wear the same colored shirt and pants/skirts. Looking down the vendor aisle to find Tommy, (who went AWOL while you were drooling over curriculum) will be much more productive when you know right away exactly what color clothing to look for. Bright colored shirts are ideal.
Leave with plenty of time. If the local coffee house is a treat, this is a nice few days to swing by and splurge. Upon arrival at the convention center, find covered parking, even if you have to pay for it. When you’re gathering your things to exit the car, double check that your cel phone is off or at least on vibrate. (If it rings during a session, do not answer it. That’s rude. Silence the phone and duck out quietly if you must, waiting until you're in the hall to start your conversation.
The bathrooms are pretty empty now, so take advantage of them – they will be crowded after the keynote session!
Upon check in, you will probably be given a plastic bag stuffed with fliers and catalogs. My suggestion is to simply decline it with a, “No, thank you.” If you can’t stand it, then get the bag and find a spot nearby where you can quickly sort through it. Trash what you don’t want and the things you’re interested in, put in your tote bag for later perusal.
Your convention may use name badges to allow access to the speakers and vendor hall. However – I personally don’t think the entire world gets to know who I am and where I’m from, so I load mine backwards. I also do this for the children when they go with us as a measure of security. If you’re into local politics and whatnot, then go to the keynote speaker at the appointed time. You’ll hear local information for about 45 minutes and then the keynote. If you are not into local politics and so-and-so’s speech to the current graduating class, then either plan on arriving 45 minutes later than the scheduled time*, or just get the cd of the keynote later if you’re interested.
*If you walk into this or any lecture late, take the nearest open seats. Don’t climb all over people to get those fabulous center seats, and don’t saunter all the way up the aisles towards the front. Your goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible as a courtesy to your speaker and your zillion home educating friends who are there with you.
Enjoy speakers, take notes.
If Rainbow Resource Center is at your convention, when you pass their booth ask the cashier if they have a catalog that you may have. They’ll hand you a catalog the size of a phonebook. I know, it weighs a ton – but this is why you aren’t taking everything that is handed to you! Stick it in your tote. If your husband is with you, stick it in his bag. This is your vendor hall in a book – a great resource to have on hand. It’s not flashy, but it’s a plethora of curriculum description and no home educating home should be with out it.
If a booth strikes your fancy, either pick up a catalog/price sheet and write the booth number on it, or make a note of the company and booth number in your notebook. Do not stop for long periods of time and linger over this fabulous book or that wonderful system for teaching phonics. This is a preliminary walking tour of the vendor hall, that’s it. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING! If you've got salespeople inviting you in simply say, "I'm just doing reconnaissance today, but I'll be back tomorrow, thank you so much!" with a smile on your face.
By the time you’re ready for lunch, you’ve been bombarded by information from every angle and your senses have been inundated. Use the bathroom (yes, do this first, or you’ll be waiting in a mile-long line after lunch), find your husband and head for the car. Start it up, turn on the a/c and pull the ice chest out. Enjoy the relative quiet and comfort, and the opportunity to talk to each other about whatever you’ve heard or found.
Why an ice chest lunch in the car? Well, let’s consider the options . . .
You could eat there from one of the food court type stands, but the tables are going to be crowded with everyone else trying to do the same thing. And you’re going to pay $9.50 for a Chicken Caesar salad that has two dried out pieces of chicken on it and is made with the icky white parts of the lettuce. You could also walk across the street to one of the local restaurants, but you will be doing so with the zillion other home educating friends, all who are going to quickly find that seating is at a premium. Go to your car, enjoy some quiet, and eat nutritious food that you know is not going to mess with your stomach later.
When you’re ready, head back for the afternoon and continue with speakers and walking the vendor hall. Check again that your phone is off or at least on vibrate. (Again - if it rings during a session, do not answer it. That’s rude. Get up and exit quietly. Check to see who called and call them back from the corridor.) Once you’ve finished the preliminary walk through of the entire vendor hall, then find a table and plan your attack on the booths that you want to revisit. Make two lists, first, the booths that have things from your curriculum list that you need to research, and second, the booths that you are interested in for some other purpose. Revisit those on your first list, FIRST.
When you’re done for the day, head home. Take a shower, put on some pj’s, and enjoy your dinner. Afterwords, put your feet up and sort through the paperwork you’ve collected. Make three piles, one is garbage, two is keep at home for reference or future use, and three is to take back with you tomorrow (catalogs from vendors you may need to revisit). Discuss curriculum choices and any deals that are being offered during the convention.
Pack up your ice chest for the next day, and go to bed early!
Day Two pretty much plays out like Day One, except that if you have a collapsible crate on wheels, Day Two is the day to take it.
Arrive and work the day just like yesterday, hearing speakers and walking the vendor hall while working on your first and/or second booth lists.
While I don’t advocate making large curriculum purchases at convention*, there are often various things we see that we’d like none-the-less, gift ideas, etc. Make your purchases using your budget that you planned weeks ago, and load your booty into your wheeled crate. Try to make these purchases from the smaller mom-and-pop vendors. They will appreciate your support.
At the end of day two, grab your favorite take out on your way home. Unload your ice chest, sort through any more paperwork you may have picked up (throw away/keep), shower, put on some PJ’s, and just VEG. Listen to what the children have been doing (if they weren’t with you) or watch a movie together.
The next day make a list of what you took, what you didn’t need, what you wished you would have taken, what you’d do differently next year. Keep this either in your records book, or in your Outlook calendar, or wherever you’ll find it in a year. Then you can review it for next year’s convention and really have your own system down. Also, order cds of whatever session you either missed, or enjoyed so much you need to hear again. This can usually be done online.
There, you’ve just experienced convention, and have worked it to its fullest. Congratulations on having survived, and see you next year!